Honda's fifth generation CR-V has evolved into something cleverer, classier and more efficient. Changes to the body structure and the optional 4WD system mean that handling's significantly more involving than it was before and the mainstream 1.5-litre VTEC TURBO petrol engine that features this time round is much more efficient. Hybrid technology also makes an appearance and customers can specify a seven-seat variant for the first time too.
To begin with the range is mainly based around a 1.5-litre, VTEC TURBO four-cylinder petrol unit available in two states of tune, with either 170 or 190bhp. Alternatively, you can talk to your dealer about an alternative petrol electric hybrid version. Most though, will want the standard 1.5 VTEC TURBO powerplant, which with 170hp comes in manual form with two or four-wheel drive. The more potent 190hp derivative comes only with a CVT auto transmission and 4WD. The 4x4 set-up - Honda calls it 'Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System' - is much improved, with an ability to send up to 60% of torque to the rear wheels when required, particularly during a hill climb. Through revisions to the calibration, the system also offers more dynamic cornering performance though feedback from the yaw rate and steering sensors. Honda also says that the electric power steering set-up has been re-tuned for extra feel.
The much more rigid body this time round helps enormously here. A solid rear stabiliser bar sharpens turn-in and reduces body roll, while a new floating, rubber-mounted sub-frame structure improves noise isolation over the previous CR-V. Honda's Agile Handling Assist set-up, as seen on the Civic hatch, is fitted to the CR-V for the first time. The electronic stability system has been specially tuned for Europe to reflect typical road surface conditions and driving styles. It responds to steering inputs with subtle, discreet assistance for added safety and smoother, more predictable vehicle behaviour including stable cornering and lane change at roundabouts, both at low and high speeds.
Smarter, more sophisticated looks mark out this fifth generation CR-V, but as usual what's important is what lies beneath the panel work. Thanks to a comprehensive, ground-up design and engineering programme, this fifth generation CR-V features the strongest and most sophisticated chassis in the nameplate's history. A low-inertia and highly rigid platform is enabled through new body construction that uses advanced lightweight and high-tensile materials. Inside, as usual, the cabin is ergonomically spot-on - though not everyone will like the faux-wood panelling used on plusher variants. Honda has tried to improve the centre-dash infotainment screen, but it's still not as effective as rival set-ups.
You're unlikely to complain about interior space though: second row passengers get lots of legroom and headroom is excellent, even if you specify the optional panoramic glass roof. The boot space is 561-litres with the second row in place, and 1756-litres with the rear seats folded flat - although if you choose that optional panoramic sunroof, you'll reduce this to 1638-litres. A key change this time round is the addition of a seven-seat variant, which offers a third seating row intended for small children. When it's erect, there's just 150-litres of luggage space behind, though that increases to 472-litres when you fold the bench into the floor. All of this is very similar to what you'd get from rival models in this segment.
It's easy to imagine yourself as target market for a car like this CR-V. You've a couple of kids, an active lifestyle, a need to haul things around and an aversion to rather dull large estate cars. This fifth generation model is likely to be an extremely easy thing to live with, the kind of car you'll own, then wonder how you managed without. That may not be a recipe for media headlines but it's an approach that other brands could certainly learn from, explaining why so many CR-Vs are bought by folk who previously owned one.
These are people who'll heartily approve of the changes that Honda has made to this MK5 model - the smarter looks, the improved engine efficiency, the classier feel and the seven-seat option for those needing it. All of these things ought to allow the CR-V to reach out beyond its traditional customer base. And probably will.Click here to find out more about our Honda CR-V range